BEIJING – A Japanese delegation arrived Monday in Pyongyang to assess North Korea’s ongoing investigation into the fates of abducted Japanese nationals.
In talks with North Korea’s special investigation committee scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, the delegation will try to obtain information on 12 individuals whom Tokyo declares were abducted in the 1970s and ’80s and who remain unaccounted for.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants those 12 cases resolved as a priority, over and above the North’s probe into other Japanese individuals — such as the wives of ethnic Koreans who moved from Japan to North Korea under a 1959-1984 repatriation project.
If the committee presents those others as its findings, Japan will not regard it as the promised first report North Korea promised to release around the end of the summer, Japanese officials said.
It is not yet known whether the mission, led by Junichi Ihara, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Foreign Ministry, will meet with So Tae Ha, chairman of the committee.
So is both vice minister of state security and counselor for security at the National Defense Commission, the top state organ headed by leader Kim Jong Un. The Ministry of State Security is a secret police organ that is believed to possess information on the abductees.
The mission is also asking to meet with the chiefs of the commission’s four panels, one for abduction victims, another for missing Japanese, a third for the remains of Japanese who died around the end of World War II in what is now North Korea and the fourth for Japanese wives and other individuals who stayed on following the end of the war.
The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.
The Japanese delegation consists of about 10 officials from the Foreign Ministry, the National Police Agency, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, and the Headquarters for the Abduction Issue of the Cabinet Secretariat.
The delegates arrived in Beijing from Tokyo on Sunday night en route to Pyongyang. Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations.
It is the first dispatch of a Japanese government mission to North Korea on the abduction issue since November 2004.
The trip comes after Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for negotiations to normalize relations with Japan, suggested in late September that Japanese officials visit Pyongyang, meet members of the investigation committee and speak to them directly so Tokyo can better understand where the investigation stands.
North Korea launched the special investigation committee in July and began an “all-inclusive and comprehensive investigation into all Japanese residing in the country,” including those it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s mainly to train spies in Japanese language and culture, in return for the lifting of some of Japan’s unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang.
North Korea has researched what happened to the abductees in the past, but Japan rejected its report as unconvincing.
Abe has urged North Korea to conduct an “honest and sincere” investigation into abductees this time. The prime minister has vowed to settle the abduction issue while he is in office.
Although Japan officially lists 17 nationals as abductees it suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances. While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Pyongyang said eight have died and four others never entered the country.